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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

GOOD MONEY AFTER BAD

"The quality of a university is measured more by the kind of student it turns out than the kind it takes in."
-Robert J. Kibbee

College Library
Colleges and Universities are expensive places; the average price of a college education in the US ranges from over $10,000 at a state college to over $30,000 at a private university per year. To meet this cost, the United States government keeps increasing the money given to students in loans and grants to help them attend these ever-more expensive institutions. Yet not everyone going to college is necessarily ready for college.

Melanie Scarborough at the Portland Examiner points out the problem:
The demand for more college seats creates a demand for more financial aid, and Congress blithely complies. Last week, the House passed a measure to spend an additional $20 billion on financial aid to students — the biggest boost since the G.I. bill of 1944. It did so not only without asking whether all the students eligible for financial aid need to be in college, but whether the colleges they will be attending need the additional money.

Last year, the average college endowment increased by 17 percent. Dozens of schools now have endowments of more than $1 billion — and it isn’t just the heavy hitters such as Harvard University, which has an endowment of $35 billion. The University of Maryland’s Great Expectations campaign set a goal of $1 billion.

Even the University of Delaware’s endowment tops $1 billion. Spending just 1 percent of that money on financial aid would free $10 million for scholarships. When so many schools are flush with money, why does Congress continue to soak taxpayers?

Throwing money at schools that don’t need it to spend on students who don’t deserve it defines government waste. Before the House bill is reconciled with the one approved by the Senate, perhaps lawmakers should educate themselves on whether such expenditures are actually needed.
Unfortunately, this money goes to students whether or not they're ready for higher education (or even need it). She tells a few stories such as this one about a student headed to college:
As we crossed the National Mall, she asked me what that big building was at the end. I told her it was the Capitol, and she asked, “What’s that?” I explained that was where Congress meets, and she asked, “What’s that?”
What's congress? It's the place people take money at gunpoint from workers and hand it to you even though you are plainly unprepared for a college education. On the bright side, she probably has a head full of rules about dealing with minorities and special interest groups.

I remember when I went to college in Michigan many of the people on my floor at the dorm didn't know where Oregon was. California, apparently, went all the way up to Canada, or perhaps Washington state. If you don't even have a middle school grasp of geography, maybe it's not yet time to go to college. Commenters discussed the costs and problems:
Missouri has been spending fewer and fewer state funds on higher education. In fact, we're currently ranked 49th. Wahoo for us! The state has also capped tuition increases, which means we're being slowly starved. But hey, I'm sure we can just "cut out the waste," the answer that geniuses provide without bothering to study a situation. But hey, if we cut funding enough we can help increase our underclass of burger-flippers, and I'm sure that's an America we can all agree on.
-by Zugernaut


Endowments are generally restricted for specific purposes chosen by the donor. If a donor chooses to leave $1Million to endow a lecture series on the arts, the lucrative 80k/yr that it earns cannot legally be used for student scholarships. Another donor may give $10million for an endowed chair of widgit design. You might think that 800k is too much to pay a prof, and the university may even agree, but it cannot decide to use that money to pay three profs or for student scholarships. Before complaining about these massive endowments, critics have a responsibility to track down how they are spent and how they are allowed to be spent. For example, what fraction of UofMD's billion dollar endowment is unrestricted?
-by Examiner Reader


When you have an endowment of $35 billion, even if 99% of that is restricted, then that's still $350 million left over. The only argument I can make against this is that if we were to stop State & Federal funds from going to universities, then that removes a lot of the sway Congress currently has. This only matters when it comes to complying with Federal law, and especially with allowing military recruiters on campuses. Get rid of those funds, and the colleges will be free to kick recruiters off, which I don't think is an ideal situation. Anyways, high-schools need to be reformed drastically in this country, but they've always been bad. I worked as a Legislative Aide on Capitol Hill not long ago and I was always shocked not only by the number of kids but all by the number of adults & seniors who not only didn't know how many Senators they have (hint: they come in doubles), but didn't even know what the Senate was.
-by Nathan


The problem doesn't start in high school but in grammar schools which don't teach grammar or reading or addition or multiplication etc. I learned about Congress in a history class in the 4th grade. Last spring I had to give a high school graduate I work with a basic introduction to American history and our political system. He didn't know the differences between senators and congress critters. He thought Abraham Lincoln was a democrat because the democrats were for black people. Fortunately, he can read, and I told him where to go on the internet for the Federalist Papers, something he hadn't heard of either. He is not unique.
-by John Costello
The problem here is really in three categories. First, colleges and universities are really expensive. Some of this is unavoidable; in order to have a quality education, you need quality facilities, teachers, and a campus to hold them all. That means classrooms, labs, dorms, parking areas, a library, computer, cafeterias, a power grid, and so on. This would be the basic infrastructure of the college: things that it cannot do without and continue to exist. This is unavoidably expensive and continues to grow more expensive every year.

Then there are the optional but important costs, such as beautiful buildings, landscaping, medical facilities, gymnasiums, and so on that a college could do without, but would suffer from the lack, and quality of education would reflect it.

Then there are the extras, things a university or college have when they get an extra sum of money, a special grant, a donation from an inheritance. An observatory, a swimming pool, an art gallery, the kind of extras that colleges build from special money set aside only for this project. This the institution could do without and not suffer from, although having it makes for a finer overall education.

And the last category are the superfluous expenses. This is the area where colleges can cut spending and not suffer at all. The extra money spent for a specially designed mascot, the black student union, the department of Bush Impeachment Studies, the special program to turn in people who offend you. These are areas the college or university spends money on that do not directly address academic achievement or create a proper educational environment, but are instead special interest or activist areas. These are the areas any college not only can but ought to cut, because they are using money up to no beneficial end, and likely are causing problems on campus instead.

Colleges and Universities, like any large organization, can always, always find areas to cut, and the most obvious places are the more recent activist additions. Does your university really need a lesbian Hispanics student union building? Does your college really need a special counselor for the transgendered handicapped? Is every department you have truly needed, or can you do without the Sanskrit degree program? The cost of these institutions is high, but need not be as high as it is, and this is the stuff that has to go.

Second, students are unprepared for college and some may not even need to go, but think they should. I remember graduating from high school and presuming that the next step was college. I didn't even consider whether it was an option or something you had to do or not. It was just what you did and that's where I went next, ready or not, interested or not, needed or not. Students should step back and reconsider: is this really what I ought to be doing? Do I need a college degree to be a tattoo artist? Am I really going to need that bachelors of science to be a diesel engine mechanic? When I take over the family farm, am I really going to need that educational level? Everyone can benefit from a college education, but that's different from needing one. College and University education is very important for many jobs and can make almost all work and life better, yet it is optional for many people's life paths.

The sad part is, like commenters pointed out, many schools are simply not preparing anyone to go to college. You can get a diploma from high school in the USA and barely be literate, let alone prepared for college. No one should graduate without basic skills and knowledge, but many do because the shift in educational priorities has gone from education and knowledge to politically correct attitudes and social activism. Rather than good students, schools are trying to produce good citizens for their ideal society. So students graduate unable to name the three branches of US government or even their neighboring states, but can tell you how evil President Bush is and six ways we can stop global warming. This produces students who really ought not go to college, where the educational level presumes a minimum basic academic expertise which they cannot offer.

Consider this piece of information from the Examiner article:
For example, at Radford University in southwest Virginia, the average SAT score for incoming freshmen is a meager 990. Only 6 percent of students graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class; 28 percent finished in the bottom half.
Even if these students don't sue for being unready yet being accepted, the universities and colleges pushing the minimum standards this low have two choices: flunk out a lot of people or turn your first years of college into a college prep course to make up the incompetence in lower levels of education.

If you aren't ready for college, you don't deserve to get there. Work until you are ready, then you can start talking about how you should be given a break. Community colleges are a good first step, they can fill the gap for far cheaper and anyone can go.

Third, government believes it ought to make sure everyone can go to college. This is a theme that is getting louder, and with the likely election of a Democrat to the presidency, will almost certainly go through congress: the idea of college care, a welfare program to make it possible for everyone to go to college ready or not. Even putting aside the obvious 10th amendment violation here of the federal government spending money where it is plainly prohibited from doing so, there's a problem here.

Not everyone as I pointed out above needs or is ready to go to college. A college education is extra, it might be very useful for a better paying job or a higher career, but it's still optional and requiring the entire nation to assist people get this education is like forcing the whole nation to pay for people to get a license and a car because they're so useful as to be nearly required. I want my car insurance! We don't provide jobs for the entire nation, people have to get their own. Why should the nation be required to provide education for a better job?

There's a misconception that something is wrong unless you are upwardly mobile with a six figure income and an extravagant lifestyle. The presumption is that having a job where you work a cash register is fine as a kid but is morally wrong for anyone over a certain age (until they're retired). Work is work, and if you can make the money you need to survive with digging ditches or picking berries, there's nothing innately bad about that job. Should you want to do better? Sure, ambition doesn't just benefit you, it benefits society by economic growth and a better life for your kids. The problem is the assumption that everyone must have three cars, a huge house with a huge plasma flat screen TV and a superb vacation every year and each year get better or something is wrong.

The economy benefits from mobility, but it doesn't require mobility among every single person in the country. One of the things Americans have a hard time with understanding is the idea of someone comfortable in their place and willing to do work that some consider demeaning because it's what you've always known and are comfortable with. Sure, I wouldn't want to be a bootblack, but it's work, and if that's what you can make your living with, more power to you.

The highest goal of humanity is not "a little more" as Rockefeller put it. It's not to have a nicer house and a nicer car, to be more comfortable and happy. That's a comfortable way to be, but it's not the best way to be from a moral and philosophical sense. Far better to be a noble, virtuous man in poverty than someone who was corrupt and wicked in gaining wealth.

I encourage everyone to get the best education they can, but I do not encourage anyone to anywhere demand that others pay their way. That's not a proper way to live, that's envy and greed. That's being angry that others have what you want, coveting what people have, and forcing them to pay for what you won't earn - theft. Ultimately, that's socialism, the deluded system that teaches that everyone should everywhere be economically equal or there is moral wrong, then tries to force that equality at all costs.
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